Evercade Game Spotlight: Solaris (Atari Collection 2)
One of the great things about the Evercade is that it showcases some of the best, most ambitious and most unusual games from all eras of video gaming. A prime example is Solaris on the Atari Collection 2 cartridge — one of the finest games to ever be released on the humble Atari 2600, and one that it’s worth exploring in a little more detail.
Solaris was first released in 1986, during the Atari 2600’s “second wind”. Following the notorious video game crash of 1983, Atari spent several years licking its wounds and adjusting to new management, which caused a large number of projects to become delayed. One of those was Solaris by Doug Neubauer, originally intended to be a video game adaptation of the 1984 movie The Last Starfighter.
Neubauer was one of the pioneers of video gaming in the early days, and was responsible for the game that many consider to be the “killer app” for Atari home computers — 1978’s Star Raiders. This was a 3D space simulator whose influences can still be felt in many of today’s modern space games — and one that still holds up well to this day.
With The Last Starfighter no longer being relevant by the time 1986 rolled around, Neubauer instead rejigged Solaris into an official sequel to Star Raiders, featuring the same conflict against the Zylon forces, presented from a different perspective and with a different core objective to achieve in a play session.
Interestingly, the game that would become Star Raiders II on Atari home computers was also originally based on The Last Starfighter, though Neubauer had nothing to do with that one — so that’s perhaps a story for another time.
Rather amusingly, Neubauer recollects that the original Solaris manual for Atari 2600 was based on his original engineering notes for the game almost verbatim, complete with his own primitive sketches that he designed with an early desktop publishing application. Assuming the professionally presented notes to be the final documentation for the game, Atari simply used them pretty much as-is.
“Apparently Atari was cash-strapped at the time,” he recalls, “but so strapped they couldn’t afford a graphics artist? Sheesh! But I learned my lesson; from then on I submitted my notes in pencil.”
And so onto the game itself. In Solaris, you take on the role of a brave space pilot in search of the eponymous legendary planet, blasting your way through Zylon forces along the way — and dealing with various other foes such as the Kogalon Star Pirates, the Planet Destroyers and Cobra Fleets.
After launching into space, you’ll be presented with your Scanner view. Solaris is split into 16 quadrants arranged in a 4×4 grid, and this grid wraps around on itself. Each quadrant is split into 48 sectors, arranged in a 6×8 grid. Your current position is represented by an X, and this can be moved around using the Evercade D-Pad.
You’ll notice that you can’t move past other symbols on the map. Star Clusters are completely impassable except, in some cases, by making use of a Wormhole, but in most other cases you can pass by an occupied sector by destroying the enemies there. The enemies will also move when the Jump Value reaches zero — though not always. Be careful: it is possible to trap yourself in a dead end, particularly when using a Wormhole, so choose your warp destinations wisely — and remember these traps for later attempts!
To warp to a sector, use the D-Pad to move the X over your destination, then press the Evercade’s A button. Your ship will launch into hyperspace, and during the charge process you’ll need to push left and right to keep it in “focus” — the further out of focus it is, the more fuel you will consume with the warp. To move to another quadrant, warp to an Exit — a sector that is next to a gap in the quadrant boundary.
Upon arriving in an occupied sector, you’ll be attacked by the enemies there. Use the radar screen in the lower-middle of the screen to locate your targets. The arrow markers on either side of the screen will also help you find something to shoot, and the numbers on either side represent the range to your next target. Ten of the numbers on the right correspond to one on the left, so imagine that the two numbers have a decimal point between them.
There are many different types of enemies in Solaris, but most encounters will conclude with a battle against at least one Zylon Flagship. These can be tricky to shoot down, but their main threat is in the red shots they fire. While not deadly in themselves, they will drain your fuel, and getting caught with no fuel is a quick way to lose a life! Thankfully, unlike in the original Star Raiders, in Solaris you have several lives, but that doesn’t mean you should waste them — use the Evercade D-Pad to outmanoeuvre your foes and the A button to blast them to smithereens!
If you do find yourself running short on fuel or with a damaged radar, head to a friendly planet (marked as a star on the scanner) and use your radar or the directional indicators to locate a docking bay. Carefully insert your spaceship into the eager orifice to enjoy a full repair and refuel. Be warned: the closer you get to Solaris, the fewer opportunities to refuel there are!
You can also attack Zylon planets, which are marked as planets with a ring around them on the scanner. In order to destroy a Zylon Planet, you need to rescue all the stranded pilots, who can be located using the radar and directional indicators. There are generally between one and three pilots to rescue. If you miss one, you’ll need to attack the planet again, but if you rescue them all the planet will explode, along with awarding you 8,000 points and an extra life.
Another Zylon installation you can attack is the Corridor, which is marked as a Cor icon on the scanner. Here, you must firstly locate the corridor entrance on the planet surface, which is the same process as finding a docking bay on a friendly planet. Then you must fly down the corridor and survive until the end. You may wish to control your speed with up and down on the D-Pad, since if you miss the key lying on the ground in front of a force field, you’ll plough right through it and lose a life!
Out in space, you may also encounter blockade sectors, which are filled with deadly mines. These can be shot or avoided, but either way you need to survive the entire wave — and usually take down a Zylon Flagship at the end — in order to proceed.
Probably the deadliest enemies you will encounter are the Cobra fleets. These are extremely aggressive enemies who attack in groups with powerful photon torpedoes. Take them out as quickly as possible!
Oh, and one final thing: if your scanner warns you that a friendly planet is under attack, you’ll probably want to go to its aid as soon as possible. If a friendly planet is destroyed, the entire quadrant will become a Red Zone, where your controls are reversed!
And that’s everything you need to know to master Solaris. Now it’s time to boldly go where a few people have gone before, and see if you can’t find the legendary lost planet for yourself!
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